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All is Bright

Church of All Saints  HillesdenThe South face of All Saints church. The tower is 15th Century with geometric style windows, but the rest of the church was built later in the Perpendicular style. In the middle is the South Transept.

All Saints, Hillesden, is a Perpendicular church. This style is easy to recognise; the windows have strong vertical stone bars, or mullions, that mean the windows can be made very large to let in the maximum amount of light.

Makers of stained glass could use the great areas of glass to their best advantage, and a church like Hillesden, built in this style, is a light and airy place. 

Hillesden’s walls are thin compared to older churches, but buttresses between the windows makes the walls stiff and strong. The thin walls allow in yet more light. Because the windows are not deep set, sunlight can come in from almost any angle.

Much use is made of vertical lines in this style, as you can see from the pillars in the church.

Nave and South aisle  HillesdenAll these large windows make the church airy and bright. This is the nave, the south aisle and South Transept, and the original rood screen. Beyond it is the chancel, and in it but barely visible here, are rows of carved angels at the top of the side walls. I have a clearer shot of the chancel here, in my previous post.

Except for the mid 15th Century tower, Hillesden’s church of All Saints dates from after 1493. The tower had been a later addition to the previous 13th Century church that the present building replaced. Nothing of the earlier church remains visible, though the font is 13th Century; it might be the original one.

The tower’s windows are in the much earlier Geometric style, but the West door at the base has a similar four centred arch to many of the Perpendicular windows in the main body of the church; wide and shallow. Perhaps it was altered when the church was rebuilt.

Perpendicular windows  HillesdenThe South transept. The vertical mullions, with a horizontal brace half way up, make a large yet strong window that floods the church with light.

The church had been appropriated to Notley Abbey, near Thame since the twelth Century. That is, some of the tithes and endowments given to All Saints (and seven other local churches) for maintenance and ceremonies were diverted to the abbey.

In return the abbey should have maintained those churches, but their neglect of them was “Sadly conspicuous” in reports written both in 1493 and 1519; it was an ongoing problem.

In the 1493 report, it said that the chancel at Hillesden was in such a bad state that the chaplain could not celebrate Mass at the High Altar. The rest of the church was also in very poor repair.

Hillesden church reflectionWater (I think driven in by Storm Dennis) lies on the floor of the South Aisle, reflecting the stained glass window above.

It’s often said that the Abbot at Notley had his monks rebuild the church, but the Victorian architect Sir George Scott, who restored the church in 1875, disagreed; he had seen the records and said they described quick repairs that had only taken a short time to do.

Whoever eventually rebuilt the church to its present form, they did a fine job; not many churches are Grade 1 Listed. Perhaps after trying to repair the old church, it was obvious that it had gone far past the point where it was worth saving, and in the end the new church was indeed erected by Notley Abbey.

Exactly when this was, we can’t say, but the windows were filled by 16th century stained glass, and it must have been a glorious sight.

Much of the stained glass was destroyed some time later, though still (probably) in the 16th Century. Cromwell’s troops get the blame, but this vandalism could have been done during the Reformation.

Hillesden church doorThe North door from the inside. The hinges on each side of the frame show that a double door was originally fitted. Just above the third horizontal brace from the top you can see a hole from a musket ball.

Musket ball hole  HillesdenOn the outside face of the door, this is the same musket ball hole as in the previous photo.

It’s pretty certain that Cromwell’s men can be blamed for the musket ball and pistol ball holes in the North door, as Hillesden was the scene of heavy fighting during the Civil War.

It’s said that the door was originally at the manor house which is where it gained the damage. Perhaps, but it’s obvious from the hinges that once there were double doors there. not the single one that we see today.

The Church of All Saints at Hillesden is a beautiful building. Set on a hill top with only a few houses nearby, it deserves its title of The Cathedral in the Fields. Why don’t you visit it and see for yourself?

South Transept  HillesdenLight from ancient glass dapples this quiet corner of the South Transept.

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please leave a comment below.


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Thank you for this fascinating entry, I really enjoyed it. I am writing a book about Hillesden church, and although I'm familiar with the records from 1493 about the ruinous state of the building, I don't know of the report about ongoing problems in 1519. I wonder if you would be kind enough to let me know the source of the information so I can include it in the book. Many thanks,

Rob Beddow

Pleased you liked the post, Rob.

I'm sorry, but I've tried to remember where I got this information from and looked at all my sources, with no success. If the information comes to light I'll let you know. Meanwhile, good luck with the book.


Hi Roger,

I only just noticed that you had replied to my post above, thank you, very kind. My work on the church continues, I have recently been looking at Sir George Gilbert Scott's drawings of Hillesden in the V and A. As for the date 1519 that I asked about, I can't find a specific reference but I now know that was the date when the last wealthy medieval patron left the parish and thereafter the building work shows every sign of being finished off in a hurry and on the cheap.

Thanks again,

Rob Beddow

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